I may be biased, as it is my home country, but England has lots to see and do. If you visit the country you really have a lot of choices for things to do. For me, it’s no wonder that the UK is the 10th biggest tourist destination with 37 million visitors in 2018 (though obviously, this figure includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Island, which are also beautiful countries and worth a visit. However, lots of tourists only stick to a few cities. For instance, London is one of the world’s most visited cities in terms of international visits and the capital of England alone attracted 21.7 million visitors in 2019.
Although London is incredible and there’s plenty to see there, you really shouldn’t just stay there. Instead, make some time for other areas in England. I mean, there are 32 UNESCO sites in the UK, which makes it the country with the 8th most World Heritage sites. If you ask me, that’s quite impressive for its size! Of these UNESCO sites, 18 of which are in England (and one on the England/Scotland border). So you can imagine that there’s lots of things to do in England. Here are, what I think, are must-have experiences in England:
Find An “Old Man” Pub
This is what I call them anyway, you’ll know one when you step into one though! You may have to have a bit of a search around, especially in cities, but there is always one somewhere. Your best bet is to look for one in a small village or town though.
I guess the better name would be “local” pub, rather than “old man” pub. But these are the sort of places where, usually men, have been going every day after work for all their lives and still go when they retire. They are normally a little dark and dingy, but the beer is cheap and you will find some locals to chat too. If you’ve seen the sit-com Early Doors, that’s the sort of pub I’m talking about!
The way you can tell when you’ve stumbled upon one; the whole bar will go quiet and stare at you. So make a good first impression!
Some pubs are only like this at certain times of the day, some are like this throughout the day. Others are only like this on certain days. But when you find one you’ll know and it’s definitely a good “English” experience to have.
Get Out On The Water In A Sea Kayak
England has a beautiful coastline and what better way to explore it from a kayak on the water? Most of the places that you can sea kayak are in the southwest, but there are a couple of other places where you can do this activity.
It may come as a surprise, but we do have some wildlife around the English coastline, such as seals and some coastal birds. From the water, you may be lucky enough to see some of these. You can also get to secret beaches and coves that are only accessible by kayaking.
I went sea kayaking in Dartmouth, which was a brilliant experience, and one I am keen to repeat!
Discover Ancient Castles
It’s not just London that has palaces and castles, they are scattered all over the country! Many are now ruins, but this does not make them any less impressive. There’s Beeston Castle, perched on the top of a hill with excellent views, Peveril Castle, Tintagel Castle and many more. English Heritage alone has over 100 castles to be explored!
Each castle has a unique history. Some started out as Norman fortresses, others are medieval castles. There is a unique story behind each one and you will discover the lives of kings, queens, noble families and knights. Exploring castles is a great way to delve into English history.
If you’re wanting to explore a number of castles and historic places in England, sign up to English Heritage to gain access to loads of properties. Or explore a lot of English history on this tour:
Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s England, Oxford, & The Cotswolds: Delve into the history of England with this tour. Including time at Warwick Castle, one of the most iconic medieval castles in England.
Indulge In Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea has been becoming more and more popular in recent years, it seems to be a bit of a craze. But I for one, hope this craze is here to stay.
Afternoon Tea began in England thanks to the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna, in 1840. In the household, dinner was served late, at 8 pm, which was fashionable at the time. Unfortunately, as this meant there was a long gap between lunch and dinner, Anna usually became hungry at around 4 pm. So to sate her hunger she would ask for a tray of tea, bread and butter. As this became a habit, she started inviting friends and it soon became a fashionable social event.
In recent years, more and more places in England offer Afternoon Tea. Pubs, cafes and restaurants, and even a bus in London. The tradition, I think, is now firmly established. You can now have Afternoon Tea at pretty much any time in the afternoon, but you will normally need to book. Some places will even have themed afternoon tea, to put a different spin on it and get really creative.
I would say though, although you can find Afternoon Tea in most places across the country, make sure you find somewhere that allows you to partake in this tradition properly. There should be three tiers of food – sandwichs/savouries, scones and, lastly, dessert, with a choice of tea, coffee, or sometimes, Prosecco. You should also be allowed at least two hours to sit and enjoy your Afternoon Tea, these things are not to be rushed!
Read about my day in London which included A Midsummers Nights Dream Themed Afternoon Tea.
Find English Bluebells
Bluebell woods in England are just beautiful. Albeit you can only discover these in springtime, they are well worth it.
Bluebells are associated with ancient woodlands, though they can also grow along hedgerows and fields. In ancient woodlands, these flowers create a blue/purple carpet under the trees and are a sign that spring is well underway.
There are many bluebell woods in England. Some are well-known and there are some lesser-known local ones. Depending on where in the country you are visiting, there is normally at least one nearby wood that the locals will know of.
Unfortunately, the English bluebell is under threat. There are the usual habitat destruction and illegal trade of bulbs as threats, but another danger is the hybridisation with European bluebells (which has flowers all around the stem, whereas the English have flowers on just one side, giving the drooping effect). Therefore the flowers are protected, so keep to paths and do not pick or trample any of the flowers. Admire them from a distance.
Find A Hidden Cocktail Bar
I’ve only come onto the hidden cocktail bar in the last few years, but I love them! I only know of one, in Manchester (which you can read about in my Manchester’s Hidden Gems post), but I believe there are more in other cities.
They normally look like something else from the front, you have to book and basically know a secret knock to get in. You have a table booked for a set amount of time and the cocktails tend to be themed. They are seriously good fun if you can find them. But discovering them is part of the fun!
Explore The National Parks
You may think that England is all about cities and towns, but it’s easy to get outside and explore natural places too. We have ten national parks, including the Lake District, Dartmoor, New Forest, the Peak District and the South Downs.
Each park has it’s own beauty and places to visit within it. For instance, Dartmoor has wild, open moorlands, and wild ponies, whereas the Peak District offers incredible views over limestone valleys and gritstone landscapes, as well as a number of stately homes to visit.
You can do day trips to these parks, or spend a few days exploring, it depends on how much time you have to explore. If you can afford the time I’d definitely recommend seeing more than one!
If you want to explore England’s National Parks, check out some of these tours:
High Adventure Day Tour: This full-day tour takes you to lesser-known parts of the Lake District. You’ll see some hidden gems and includes travelling on the steepest road in England and visiting the deepest lake in England.
Derbyshire And The Peak District: Explore the beautiful peaks, old villages and mysterious caves of the Peak District in this day trip.
Seven Sisters and South Downs Full-Day Tour: This full-day trip takes you to the magnificent South Downs National Park. You will see the iconic Seven Sisters, a rippling wall of chalk and enjoy views from Devil’s Dyke.
See Places That Inspired
England has a wealth of literary history. Not only can we lay claim to being the birthplace of Shakespeare, but there are many places that inspired other authors.
If you’re a fan of the literary greats, you can explore houses that belonged to authors such as the Bronte sisters or Agatha Christie. Or you can go to places that inspired authors, such as Whitby, which is famous for its Dracula connection. Or there’s Houndtor in Dartmoor that is said to have inspired the Hound of the Baskervilles. There’s even a Tolkien Trail in Birmingham (which I still need to do). Forget film sets and locations, look for where the ideas of the stories were born in England.
If you’re into Dickens, check out this tour:
London: Dickens Walking Tour: On this 105-minute tour you will see places that Dickens knew and were mentioned in his novels. You’ll be taken through winding alleys and ancient corners of London whilst hearing facts about the writer’s life and listening to quotes.
Delve Into England’s Sport Culture
As an English person, I let the side down when it comes to sports history. But there is a huge sports culture, and it’s not just football. There’s rugby, golf, cricket tennis at Wimbledon and even darts that are seen as very “English” sports.
You can either go and see something played (for me, I want to go to Wimbledon one year), or you can take tours of stadiums. There’s even a football museum in Manchester.
Personally, this is not something I’m really into, but I admit that it is a must-have English experience if you’re looking for things to do in England.
If you want to learn about England’s sports history, check out these tours:
Twickenham: Stadium Tour & World Rugby Museum: Visit the most important rugby site in England on this 75-minute tour. You will see the England dressing room, get a birds-eye view from the top of the stand and visit the World Rugby Museum.
Guided Wembley Stadium Tour: Spend over an hour reliving some of Wembley Stadiums finest moments on this tour. You’ll visit various parts of the stadium, see historical treasures and enjoy a breathtaking view of Wembley.
Get Muddy At A Music Festival
Now this one is more me. And a music festival (especially in the rain), is a must-have experience to have in England. Of course, there’s the world-famous Glastonbury, but it’s hard to get tickets to this. Personally, I’d recommend finding a smaller festival. Personally, I love Beautiful Days.
England may not have the weather all the time, but that doesn’t stop a festival from going on! Go, enjoy the music, have some drinks and get muddy for the true English music festival experience.
Take A Hike
Getting outdoors and exploring is a great thing to do in England. We have some pretty good trails in National Parks and other local walks. There are coastal walks and forest walks, you’ll be able to find something for most abilities.
Delamere forest is where I used to explore as a child. Or there are other short walks such as the Cloud, Kinder Scout and Three Shires Head.
England also has some good multi-day hikes. There’s the obvious Hadrians wall hike, but there are plenty more such as the Coast to Coast walk, the Gritstone Trail, the Pennine Way and the Sandstone Trail. If you have the time and ability, a multiday hike is a great way to see the English countryside (and feel like a hobbit on an adventure). Just be sure to be well prepared, take the correct ordnance survey map with you, have decent footwear and know where you are going.
Ride A Heritage Railway
We might not have the beautiful railways across the Swiss Alps, but in England, there are plenty of Heritage Steam Railways that make a lovely experience. Some may only be a few hours ride, but they are still good fun.
There’s something about an old steam train, isn’t there? And trains are a great way to see some of the beautiful countryside that England has. There are plenty of these trains around, such as the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, they may cost a little more than a usual train ride, but they are worth it.
These trains are about the journey and not the destination, some are hop-on-hop-off, where you can explore villages along the line, which makes a great day out.
Want to take a train ride? Have a look at this:
Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway All Stations Pass: Travel on England’s longest narrow gauge railway in the heart of the Lake District with this pass. You can hop on and off at any station as you travel from the coast to the Scafells.
See A Shakespeare
I’ve already mentioned our famous bard, and where better to see one of his plays than in his country of birth? The best part about this is that you don’t have to pay a fortune for these plays, they are often much cheaper than West-End plays, even in London. I love seeing a Shakespeare at the Globe, (like I did on my London Adventure a few years ago) especially as the “groundling” (standing) tickets are only £5 (giving you the true Elizabethian peasant experience).
It’s not just London where you can see Shakespeare plays though. The Lord Chamberlains Men are a male-only troupe that tour the country, another Elizabethian experience. Or there are plenty of outdoor performances over the summer, I love going to Chester to see a Shakespeare play.
Embrace The Beach
In England, we know that we don’t have the best weather. Despite this, we still love the beach. England has some beautiful beaches, some are popular, some are hidden and we won’t let the weather ruin the enjoyment.
For the true must-have English experience, wait until it’s raining, get ice cream and sit on the beach. I’m not even joking. You can’t get more English than sitting on a beach, in waterproofs and eating ice cream.
So be sure to embrace the beach whatever the weather.
Why not fully embrace the beach and take a Surf Lesson
Explore The Canals
England has a large canal network, so you must explore them. You can find them, and walk along them, in cities and the countryside. It’d be hard to visit England without walking along a stretch of canal.
Though for an even better experience, take a canal boat trip, like my Adventure with the Wandering Duck. Like heritage railways, this is all about the journey, not the destination. Cruising down the canal, you can stop off at numerous canal-side pubs, help out with navigating locks and see why so many people choose to live on canal boats in England.
So there you have it! My list of things to do in England. These are must-have experiences that are very “English”. Would you add anything else to the list? Let me know in the comments.
If you are looking for a multi-day tour in England, that takes in a few of the above list of things to do, check out these:
3-Day Yorkshire Dales And The Peak District: This three-day tour takes in the Peak District National Park, incredible beaches and Whitby, which inspired Bram Stoker and features in Dracula.
Lake District 3-Day Tour: Explore the Lake District National Park on this three-day trip. You will see beautiful scenes, as well as discovering castle ruins and Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage.
Devon and Cornwall 5 Day Tour: Spend five incredible days exploring the south-west of England. You will explore ancient castles, see landscapes that inspired Rosamunde Pilcher and see the beautiful Dartmoor National Park.